Tag: J.R. Smith

2015 NBA Finals - Game Five

David Blatt’s gambit going small didn’t work, but was only call he could make


OAKLAND — There comes a point in every NBA playoff series — particularly a Finals series — where a coach realizes that he is about to lose, that what has worked to get them there is no longer good enough. When that happens, you see desperation moves. Heck, in 2008 Phil Jackson tried to roll out Chris Mihm against the Celtics front line because he needed a desperation move.

Cavaliers coach David Blatt reached that point early in Game 5. The Warriors had gone small in Game 4, subbing Andre Iguodala in for Andrew Bogut. It worked.

Blatt had tried to counter by staying big with Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson in at the same time, and Mozgov had 28 points in Game 4. And the Cavaliers lost by 21.

To open Game 5 the Warriors missed a couple threes and had a couple turnovers, but then really started to expose Mozgov — Golden State hit four of their next five. There was Stephen Curry with a layup, Draymond Green with a dunk in transition, followed by Green with another dunk — Green and the Warriors were  exposing Mozgov’s inability to get out on the perimeter and still protect the rim, plus the fact Mozgov is not fast in transition. Golden State was getting the shots it wanted and early on was starting to pull away (already up 8-2). They had solved the Cavaliers. This game was going to get ugly.

Blatt knew it. So he made a desperate move and decided to match the Warriors small lineup. Out came Mozgov and in came J.R. Smith.

After the game Blatt took a lot of criticism for going small, including a number of questions about why he went away from his big man and trying to pound the Warriors inside as they had Game 4. Blatt responded by noting they lost the lost Game 4 by more than this one. Game 5 was a one-point game with just more than five minutes left, which is a lot closer than Game 4.

“I thought (going small) was our best chance to win the game, and we were definitely in the game with a chance to win,” Blatt said.  So that’s the way we played it.”

The Warriors beat the Cavaliers to some offensive rebounds late in Game 4, and there were no solid second scorers behind LeBron James in Game 4 like Mozgov in Game 4. On the surface you can make the staying big argument, but it misses the real picture.

The reality for Blatt was obvious and simple:

If he stayed with the big lineup, he was going to get blown out. Again.

Going small played to Golden State’s strengths, but it worked a lot better than staying big did or would have.

The problem for Blatt and the Cavaliers is it doesn’t matter what style he plays — the Warriors are the better, deeper team. The Warriors have more pieces on the chess board and can adjust. The Cavaliers made some nice adjustments in this game to get J.R. Smith open off some pindown actions, and he hit his first three from beyond the arc. Then the Warriors adjusted how they defended the action (switching more) and that play went away, it didn’t work. The Warriors have the depth, the personnel to counter anything the Cavaliers try.

Blatt was getting beat playing big. So, he took a gamble playing small. It didn’t work out.

But he had to try something. The status quo was his team getting blown out again.

LeBron James’ teammates hit playoff low in scoring

LeBron James, Tristan Thompson

LeBron James didn’t mince words.

“I feel confident because I’m the best player in the world,” LeBron said. “It’s simple.”

If only it were that simple for him.

LeBron scored 40 points (to go with 14 rebounds and 11 assists), but Cleveland lost Game 5 of the Finals, 104-91, Sunday. Why? The other Cavaliers scored just 51 points.

That’s a low for LeBron’s teammates this postseason:


The last time his teammates scored so few was March 26, 2014. LeBron scored 38 in an 84-83 loss to the Pacers.

Before that it was Game 6 of the 2013 Eastern Conference finals. Again against Indiana, LeBron scored 29 in a 91-77 loss.

This is the 39th time LeBron’s teammates have scored so few points, including 12th in the playoffs. His record in those games: 5-34 overall, 2-10 in the playoffs

Why aren’t his teammates scoring more now? Here are the thee biggest reasons in order:

1. Kevin Love’s and Kyrie Irving’s injuries

They were the Cavaliers’ second and third options, and they’re sidelined. If those two were healthy, Cleveland’s scoring would be much more balanced. As is, LeBron has taken it upon himself to do practically everything.

2. Warriors’  defense

Golden State has spent a lot of time defending LeBron straight up, not helping off Cleveland’s shooters while still forcing LeBron into enough misses. When the Warriors have double-teamed, they’ve been very deliberate about when and how to do it. Essentially, they’re daring LeBron to beat them singlehandedly and not letting anyone else get going.

3. Remaining Cavaliers playing poorly

Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova are over their heads as No. 2 or even No. 3 options. It’s no surprise this group can’t put the ball in the basket enough. LeBron shot 15-of-34 (44%) Sunday, and his teammates were 17-of-47 (36%).

No. 1 isn’t changing. I suppose No. 2 could, but Golden State has been the NBA’s best defensive team all season. For the Cavaliers to win again this season, No. 3 will have to change.

Will LeBron’s teammates score more, enough to beat the Warriors?

Finding confidence there definitely isn’t so simple.

Leading sports scientist compares LeBron James’ workload to a Tour de France cyclist

LeBron James

It’s been obvious to anyone watching the Finals that LeBron James is taking on a superhuman workload. But according to  group of leading athletic trainers and scientists, we haven’t fully grasped just how much is being asked of him. Thanks to injuries to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love and the horrible shooting of J.R. Smith, James has been asked to do basically everything himself on the offensive end, and that’s before you factor in the amount of travel between games. In a fascinating piece by ESPN.com’s Tom Haberstroh, the Athletic Lab’s Michael Young compared James’ workload to a Tour de France rider.

Playing 40-plus minutes multiple times a week while traveling across the country and carrying the offensive load?

“That’s the top of the top,” Young says. “Every one of these NBA guys are under a tremendous amount of stress at this point, but LeBron in particular, playing 46 minutes a game with that travel and quick turnaround … it’s a little insane. That’s unbelievable, really, to bear that mental and physical burden and still play at a high level.”

When asked if there is any athletic equivalent to playing two games in three days while traveling across three time zones, Young paused for a moment to think. He could only point to one.

“Maybe the Tour de France,” Young says.

But even that, Young attests, can’t quite capture the carnage on James’ body.

“In cycling, there’s no physical impact on your body like basketball,” Young says. “The overall workload is significantly higher on the Tour but there’s no constant impact, which plays a huge role in fatigue that LeBron is probably experiencing. And there’s no real travel to speak of.”

It’s not just this season, either. Between the regular season and playoffs, James has played almost 6,000 more minutes than anyone else in the league since the 2003-04 season, and that’s before you take into account Team USA play.

If the Cavs somehow win the series, it will be the most impressive feat of James’ career.